An electric velomobile. All pictures: Fietser.be
Both the velomobile and the electric bicycle increase the limited range of the cyclist – the former optimises aerodynamics and ergonomics, while the latter assists muscle power with an electric motor fuelled by a battery.
The electric velomobile combines both approaches, and so maximises the range of the cyclist – so much so that it is able to replace most, if not all, automobile trips.
While electric velomobiles have a speed and range that is comparable to that of electric cars, they are up to 80 times more efficient. About a quarter of the existent wind turbines would suffice to power as many electric velomobiles as there are people.
Few people find the bicycle useful for distances longer than 5 km (3 miles). In the USA, for instance, 85 % of bicycle trips involve a trip of less than 5 km. Even in the Netherlands, the most bicycle-friendly country in the western world, 77 % of bike trips are less than 5 km. Only 1 % of Dutch bicycle trips are more than 15 km (9 miles). In contrast, the average car trip amounts to 15.5 km in the USA and 16.5 km in the Netherlands, with the average trip to work being 19.5 km in the USA and 22 km in the Netherlands. (Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.)
It’s clear that the bicycle is not a viable alternative to the car. Depending on his or her fitness, a cyclist reaches cruising speeds of 10 to 25 km/h, which means that the average trip to work would take at least two to four hours, there and back. A strong headwind would make it even longer, and when the cyclist is in a hurry or has to climb hills, he or she would arrive all sweaty. When it rains, the cyclist arrives soaking wet, and when it’s cold hands and feet would freeze. Longer trips on a bicycle also affect the body: wrists, back, shoulders and crotch all suffer, especially when you choose a faster bike.
An electrically-assisted bicycle solves some of these problems, but not all. The electric motor can be used to reach a destination faster, or with less effort, but the cyclist remains unprotected from the weather. Longer trips would still cause discomfort. Moreover, the range of most electric bicycles (about 25 km or 15.5 miles) is just large enough for the average one-way trip to work, which means that it will not suffice for all commutes.
The Advantages of an Electric assist Velomobile
The velomobile—a recumbent tricycle with aerodynamic bodywork – offers a more interesting alternative to the bicycle for longer trips. The bodywork protects the driver (and luggage) from the weather, while the comfortable recumbent seat eases the strain on the body, making it possible to take longer trips without discomfort. Furthermore, a velomobile (even without electric assistance) is much faster than an electric bicycle.
At speeds below 10 km/h (6 mph), rolling resistance is the biggest challenge for a cyclist. Air resistance becomes increasingly influential at higher speeds, and becomes the dominant force at speeds above 25 km/h (15.5 mph). This is because rolling resistance increases in proportion to speed, while air drag increases with the square of speed. Because a velomobilist has much better aerodynamics than a bicyclist—the drag coefficient of a velomobilist is up to 30 times lower—he or she can attain higher speeds with the same effort.
If rigged with an electric auxiliary motor, the weak points of the velomobile—its slower acceleration and climbing speed—are eliminated
On the downside, a velomobile is heavier than a bicycle, which means that it takes more effort to accelerate and to climb hills. Acceleration is inversely proportional to the mass of a vehicle, so a velomobile uses roughly twice as much energy during acceleration than a bicycle, depending on the weight of the driver and vehicle.
If rigged with an electric auxiliary motor, the weak points of the velomobile—its slower acceleration and climbing speed—are eliminated. At the same time, a motor accentuates its advantages by further improving on the range of a cyclist. Last but not least, a battery will give a much better range in the velomobile, due to its better aerodynamics.
Test Driving a Ferrari
In August, I test drove an electrical velomobile—the eWAW, a vehicle that is sold by Fietser.be—in and around Ghent, Belgium. Brecht Vandeputte, the driving force behind the Belgian manufacturer, accompanied me in an unassisted WAW during a one and a half hour trip through the city and along the tow path of the river Schelde.
The WAW velomobile (without electrical assistance) was originally developed for winning human-powered vehicle races. It was adapted for daily use with the addition of, among other things, a leakproof rear tyre, open wheel arches (which make the vehicle more agile), an adjustable seat, and a more durable body—which consists of a carbon roll bar and safety cage surrounded by aramid crumple zones. The WAW is known worldwide, at least among velomobilists, as one of the fastest velomobiles available on the market—some call it the Ferrari of the velomobiles.
The WAW stands out because of its weight (it is 28 kg, as opposed to 34 kg, the weight of the most popular velomobiles, the Dutch Quest and Alleweder) and its low centre of gravity (it has a ground clearance of only 9 cm and a height of just 90 cm). Along with a wide wheelbase, a hard suspension, and precise steering (it uses two gear sticks instead of one), this results in high speeds and excellent handling, even on sharp corners. Of course, the WAW also has the drawbacks you can expect from a real sports car, like the very basic interior finish and the fact that the vehicle rattles like a box of rocks when you ride it over a cobblestone road. If road conditions are bad, other velomobiles with more comfortable suspension will be a better choice.
With 250 watts of power, the electric motor of the eWAW gives a person with an average fitness level the power output of an athlete
The eWAW that I drove has everything that the WAW has, plus an electric motor of 250 watts and a surprisingly small battery of 288 Wh, which takes you 60 to 130 km further (37 to 81 miles). The battery and the motor add only 5 kg, bringing the total weight of the vehicle to 33 kg. This is comparable to the weight of other velomobiles without electric assistance. Hence, this pedal powered Ferrari is more than 10 kg lighter than other velomobiles, with a 250 watt electric assistance, such as the hybrid Alleweder and the e-Sunrider, which weigh 45 kg.
Cycling at 50 km/h
So how fast is the WAW, and how much faster is the eWAW? First of all, the eWAW is a hybrid vehicle, but the biomass powered motor, also known as the driver, is not included in the package. Because the driver always provides the main part of the total power output, the speed of the vehicle will depend on the power that he or she can deliver. There is no better illustration of this than my test drive. Over a period of about an hour and a half, Brecht and I managed to reach an average speed of 40 km/h (25 mph)—I was in the eWAW and had the regular assistance of the electric motor, Brecht was in a WAW without pedal assistance.
Cycling literature makes a distinction between three types of cyclists: people with an average fitness level, people with a good fitness level, and top athletes. Riders with an average fitness can maintain a power output of 100 to 150 watts over a period of one hour. Riding a WAW, this translates to speeds of 35 to 40 km/h in ideal conditions—an unobstructed racetrack, and a completely closed vehicle. Drivers with a good fitness level can deliver 200 watts of power over a period of one hour, which translates to speeds of 45 to 50 km/h under the same circumstances.
With 250 watts of power, the electric motor of the eWAW gives a person with an average fitness level (like me) the power output of an athlete (100 + 250 watts = 350 watts).
Maximizing Range and Efficiency
I am a speed freak, so when I found myself on a nice, open stretch of road, the first thing I did was start the motor at full throttle and pedal like a madman at the same time. If I could have more than 350 watts at my disposal, I calculated, I must be able to reach speeds of at least 70 or 80 km/h (40 to 50 mph). However, my attempt to go any faster than 50 km/h (30 mph) left me frustrated—the vehicle lacks the high gears needed for those speeds.
Why? Because the eWAW is designed for maximum efficiency. The electric motor is intended to be used for acceleration only (and for climbing hills). Once the velomobilist reaches a cruising speed of about 40 to 50 km/h, he or she switches to pedalling alone.
The engineer’s choice to assist the driver only during acceleration is smart; it increases the range of both the cyclist and the battery spectacularly
The eWAW does not increase the cruising speed or top speed of the unassisted WAW, although it does increase the average speed because it speeds acceleration. This is a different approach from the electric bicycle, where pedal assistance is continuous at normal cruising speeds. With regards to efficiency, the concept behind the eWAW makes much sense.
A bicyclist needs less energy to accelerate than a velomobilist does (because of the bike’s lighter weight) but more energy to keep up speed (because of its weak aerodynamics). In contrast, a velomobilist needs more energy to accelerate than a bicyclist does (because of the vehicle’s heavier weight) but less energy to keep up speed (because of its excellent aerodynamics).
Because it takes more energy to accelerate in an eWAW than to drive it at a constant speed, the engineer’s choice to assist the driver only during acceleration is smart; it increases the range of both the cyclist and the battery. The electric motor supports the driver during peak efforts, so that his or her endurance will increase spectacularly. (Peak efforts have a detrimental effect on endurance, while pedalling at a steady pace can be done for hours.) Meanwhile, the driver offers the same service to the battery. Because the electric motor is shut off at cruising speed, the battery range increases considerably.
This said, the driver of the eWAW can choose to use the motor at cruising speed, because it can be operated at his or her will by means of a throttle. This is how I drove the vehicle. As a consequence, the battery lasted ’only’ 60 km (37 miles), but at least I could keep up with Brecht.
80 times More Efficient than Electric Cars
Mounting an electric engine in a velomobile is controversial among velomobilists, just as an electric bicycle is skewed by many biking aficionados. However, when we compare the eWAW with the electric car, still viewed by many as the future of sustainable transportation, it’s a clear winner. In fact, the electric velomobile is everything what the electric car wants to be, but isn’t: a sustainable alternative to the automobile with combustion engine. It is nearly impossible to design a personal, motorised and practical vehicle that is more efficient than the eWAW.
If all 300 million Americans replace their car with an electric velomobile, they need only 25 % of the electricity produced by existing American wind turbines
A simple calculation can illustrate this claim. Imagine that all 300 million Americans replace their car with an electric velomobile and all drive to work on the same day. To charge the 288 Wh battery of each of these 300 million eWAW’s, we need 86,4 GWh of electricity. This is only 25 % of the electricity produced by existing American wind turbines (on average per day during the period July 2011 to June 2012, source). In other words, we could make a switch to private vehicles operating on 100 % renewable energy, using existent energy plants.
Photo credit: Bill Bates
Now imagine that all 300 million Americans replaced their cars with an electric version like the Nissan Leaf, and all drive to work on the same day. To charge the 24 kW battery of each of those 300 million vehicles, we need 7,200 Gwh of electricity. This is 20 times more than what American wind turbines produce today, and 80 times more than what electric velomobiles need. In short: scenario one is realistic, scenario two is not.
Even if we all started carpooling, and every electric automobile could carry five people, there remains a large gap in efficiency. Charging 60 million electric cars would still require 16.6 times more electricity than charging 300 million eWAW’s. The electric velomobile also makes it fairly easy for a driver to charge his or her own vehicle. A solar panel of about 60 watts (with a surface area of less than one square metre) produces enough energy to charge the battery, even on a dark winter day.
In Europe, it would take an even smaller share of the existent wind turbines to charge every European’s eWAW. For the sake of thoroughness, it should be mentioned that the bio-motor also requires energy: the driver needs to eat, and this food needs to be produced. But since western people eat too much, and then drive their cars to the gym in order to lose excess fat, this factor can be safely ignored.
The large difference in energy efficiency between electric velomobiles and electric cars is remarkable, because both have a similar range. As mentioned, the eWAW takes you a distance of 60 to 130 km, depending on how intensively you use the motor. The Nissan Leaf takes you at best 160 km, when you drive slowly and steadily, and when you don’t make use of the air-conditioning, heating or electronic gadgets on board.
Adding only 6 kg of batteries increases the range of the electric velomobile to 450 km
A heating system is not required in a velomobile, not even in winter, because hands and feet are protected from the wind by the bodywork, and because the driver is active (body activity is the most important factor in maintaining thermal comfort). The need for cooling in summer, on the other hand, will decrease the range—the driver will rely more on the electric motor in order to cool down.
Interestingly, it is easier to increase the range of the electric velomobile than of the electric car, if necessary. The eWAW can be equipped with one or two extra batteries, which increases the range up to 180 km (112 miles, with continuous assistance of the motor) or 450 km (280 miles, when the motor is only used to assist acceleration). Adding two batteries to the eWAW increases the weight of the vehicle by only 6 kg, and still leaves ample space for luggage. If we suppose that the rider weighs 70 kg, then adding two batteries increases the total weight of the eWAW from 103 to 109 kg—a weight gain of 6 %. If we apply the same trick to the Nissan Leaf (where three times as many batteries take the place of the rear seat and the trunk), total weight increases from 1,582 kg (the driver of 70 kg included) to 2,022 kg—a weight gain of 30 %.
Another way to increase the range of an electric vehicle is swapping batteries or fast-charging them. These options are available for both electric cars and velomobiles, but developing a charging infrastructure for electric cars is a daunting task, while doing so for electric velomobiles is easy. The battery of the eWAW not only needs 80 times less energy than the battery of a Nissan Leaf (which makes fast-charging a real option), it also weighs 73 times less (which makes swapping batteries a very low-tech operation). While we do have faster vehicles for long distances that are equally sustainable (like trains and trolleybusses, the velomobile offers an alternative for those who prefer a personal means of transportation, or for those who prefer an active lifestyle.
The capacity of our roads would at least quadruple if we switched from cars to velomobiles
When the battery of an electric velomobile drains, the velomobilist can still pedal home—at speeds above those of a bicycle. The driver of the electric car can’t do that, because his contraption is too heavy. One Nissan Leaf weighs as much as 46 eWAW’s. Most of the energy used by an electric car (and by a car with combustion engine), is used to move the vehicle itself, not the driver—the Nissan Leaf is 21 times heavier than its driver. In the case of the eWAW, this relation is reversed: the driver weighs two to three times more than the vehicle.
Fast and Smooth Traffic
The eWAW makes cycling a fast and comfortable option for longer distances. At a cruising speed of 50 km/h (31 mph), the average commute in the USA (19.5 km or 12 miles) would take 23.4 minutes. This compares very favourably with the car, for which the average commute time is 22.8 minutes (source). In the Netherlands, where road traffic is heavy, the electric velomobile is potentially faster than a car. The velomobile could cover the average commute of 22 km (13.7 miles) in 26.4 minutes, while it takes 28 minutes by car (source).
Of course, a cruising speed of 50 km/h does not mean that a velomobilist can reach an average speed of 50 km/h during the whole trip. If cars could maintain their maximum cruising speed during the commute, they would be much faster than velomobiles. In reality, however, they can’t do that because of speed limits, traffic lights and traffic jams.
Velomobiles could suffer similar delays, but there is an important difference: because a velomobile occupies much less space than a car (one car needs as much space as four velomobiles), free-flowing traffic is a much more realistic option for velomobiles. The capacity of our roads would at least quadruple if we switched from cars to velomobiles. Furthermore, the cruising speed of a velomobile does not exceed most speed limits.
Pimp up your Velomobile
Over and above this, it is easy to equip a velomobile with a more powerful motor and higher gears, allowing for much higher cruising speeds. It would lose efficiency and range, but, since an eWAW is 80 times more efficient than an electric car, there is quite a bit of room for pimping up a velomobile. We’ll discuss these possibilities, as well as the legal obstacles for electric velomobiles, in the second part of this article.
Continue Reading: 1 / 2.
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None of those look as comfortable as a car.
Kris De Decker
@ John (#62): the article was not sponsored by Fietser. I did not receive a velomobile (alas!) or anything else. All they did was allow me to test drive one of their vehicles. I hope you don’t except me to buy every product that I review?
The lack of suspension is mentioned in the article. I quote myself:
“Of course, the WAW also has the drawbacks you can expect from a real sports car, like the very basic interior finish and the fact that the vehicle rattles like a box of rocks when you ride it over a cobblestone road. If road conditions are bad, other velomobiles with more comfortable suspension will be a better choice.”
That’s clear, no?
If the Quest XS Carbon has rear suspension, it will be more comfortable than the WAW, but at the expense of handling. Therefore, the WAW deserves the claim of being the “Ferrari of velomobiles”. Contrary to the Quest XS Carbon, it makes no compromise.
About the weight: the Quest XS Carbon weighs 27.5 kg, versus 28 kg for the WAW. But the WAW is made for tall people, while the Quest XS (“Extra Small”) is made for short people. The Quest Carbon for tall people weighs 30 kg. So, claiming that the Quest is lighter than the WAW, is simply not true.
You should do more homework before publishing such a comment.
I think this could be a great alternative some day in the future when legislation ideals align more closely with the goals of the velomobile. For so much to change in order to make these vehicles commonplace, it will take a lifetime of informing people and convincing. Your article is very informative and clear, however. Bravo
I have only 30watts of solar panel on the body of my velomobile. They give me 20km of extra range during a sunny day (My battery gives me a average of 120km range at 35km:h, 6wh:km).
I have also a trailer with an atachable solar panel (80W) but I only take it for long trip. this gives me 60km extra range during a sunny day.
There is still one kind of automobile trip where I have yet to see human powered/electric hybrids making a satisfactory replacement to the car.
Family transport in trips of over 60 km
This can be for example holiday trips, meaning a range from 100 to around 700 km in a day or less for 4 people (adults and children) with luggage for a week.
Some form of multi modal transport is the best answer I can think of (train+folding electric bycicles and trailers) but the confort level would be very different from that of the car, and only possible in areas with reasonably dense rail networks.
Two major drawbacks of the current velomobiles are left out in the article: price and cargo capacity. Price can be lowered with mass-production, but if we really want a car killer, more cargo space is needed. Child transport and some decent grocery shopping is a minimum. How many people uses a sports car with very limited cargo capacity in daily life? Using a trailer is not a good enough answer to this challenge.
A very interesting article - thank you. I can see cars becoming smaller and lighter because they will have to do so in order to either improve their consumption of liquid fuels dramatically (to 100+ miles per imperial gallon) or function usefully on electricity alone.
In the much more resource-constrained world of the future, the cost of buying and running cars will be beyond many people, who will go back to using shared transport, e.g. trains and ‘sheruts’ http://tinyurl.com/8z8u8gt
Velomobiles would be an affordable ownership option for some of those priced out of cars. The serious challenge for transport planners in the coming decades will be safely integrating ultra lightweight cars and velomobiles with trucks and buses as well as millions of ’legacy automobiles’ like my VW Passat for as long as the latter remain in operation
Perhaps a mix of air-quality/emissions restrictions in cities and better homologation rules for velomobiles?
My homemade velo with 250w/25 km/h legal eassist serves my shopping needs fine. Two Ortlieb pannier bags for everyday grocery shopping on its luggage rack. For larger stuff I use my Radical Cyclone trailer. Loads 40 kgs which is enough for getting most building materials home, running old and broken stuff or hedgetrimmings down to the recycling centre etc. Sure, a car with a trailer could do it faster and in fewer trips, but it costs an arm and a leg to buy and operate. So I either borrow a friends or rent one on the rare occasions I need a car, but otherwise I’ve never owned one (24 years since I got my drivers license) and wouldn’t be too heartbroken if I never do.
I can understand why legislation is so confusing. Think about it, even without electric assist, let’s say teenagers are goofing around in a velomobile at 30km/h. That’s fast enough to endanger and do damage to themselves, pedestrians, and other drivers (motorist/cyclist).
I prefer a speed cap that requires licensing. I do like the idea of the velomobile though. However, I can’t imagine it being practical anywhere in Texas where I live.
Even as an older fart with bad knees it would be a welcome sight to see the public move towards this type of transportation. But here in Colorado I can also see public outrage as these ‘slower’ vehicles start sharing the road. And we’re a ‘bike friendly’ state!
The roads are not designed to carry the mixed speeds that bikes and velomobiles run at, just autos moving at the posted speed limit. On my way to work this morning (cold btw) my avg speed while not at a stop light(!) was probably close to 45mph/72kph. There is not room for a slower vehicle of any sort to safely handle the morning or afternoon traffic. Safely being the keyword.
Could I take back roads instead of the major streets? Perhaps. Would my wife headed out for a run to the grocery store want to do that? No. The well intentioned worker that has a longer commute want a even longer commute? Probably not.
Until the existing roadways are redesigned to handle bicycles or velomobiles you will be putting your life into understanding auto drivers. I for one do not trust them.
Is it a failure of our elected officials that our roadways are not capable of handling a variety of traffic flows? Perhaps not. An engineer proposing a wider roadway to handle bike traffic 30-40yrs ago would have been shouted down by those paying the bills. It’s a recent phenomenon for bike to be used as daily transport. At least here in the US.
Somewhere in here is a recumbent, streamlined, solo, electric powered or assist, personal transport module. It may have 2 or 3 wheels. Let’s hope the governments let us experiment and try and invent it.
When Henry Ford was trying to build and sell cars, he knew that people resist change. He said that if you asked them, they’d want to have a better horse and certainly not a car. But he didn’t blame his potential customers.
Instead, he build cars that were worse than those of his competitors but also cheaper. People who weren’t even remotely considered potential customers (cars were toys of some rich enthusiasts) started buying Ford’s cars to use them and not merely as a toy either, because it made sense.
As it turned out, a car is a car is a car - even when its performance is somewhat worse than other cars, it still has that desired quality of being a car and being able to do the things a car can do. Perhaps a bit slower and a little less comfortable, but much cheaper. Putting it within financial reach and reason of people in general.
Resistance to change is strongest, when you demand a change towards unreasonable behaviour. And that’s what you do when you demand that people should buy a velomobile that’s as expensive as a new small car (it’s even worse for used cars) but much less capable and much less comfortable.
Less capability and less comfort carries a lower price everywhere in the world (except for pure luxury items). This is a reality that must be accepted. Otherwise, you might as well demand that people starving in Africa for lack of wheat, rice and maize should simply go and get some food at their nearest McDonald’s.
Any move to create widespread transportation alternatives similar to the velomobile will inevitably attract the gimlet eyes of federal regulators who are obsessively engaged in making auto manufacturers jump through ever more complex and hugely expensive hoops to increase both safety and efficiency. Regulators would thrill to the velomobile’s efficiency but fibrillate in horror over their near complete lack of crash resistance. The instant regulators start requiring lightweight fragile velomobiles, of whatever configuration, to meet current automotive crash standards then there goes the ballgame.
Of course motorcycles are legal and don’t have to meet crash standards but who can say logic rules the roost at the U.S D.O.T.? Best to hunker down and avoid attracting the Eye of Sauron.
@ Kris (#22)
Your source is from 2010 and outdated. there are new rules in place since may 2012
Unfortunately it is not legal to electrify velomobiles.
Good thing is that trailers for kids are allowed. Even for the fast 45km/h 1kW versions.
Its clear that Velomobil need less space than a car. But the situation is that our bike lanes are very narrow. Barely enough for a city bike. With a kids trailer I am already restricted in the routes. If I need to drive longer distances with a Velomobil because its to bulky I just stay with the bike.
I think this may be mistaken (from the second paragraph above “Test Driving a Ferrari”):
“The power required for acceleration is inversely proportional to the mass of a vehicle, so a velomobile uses roughly twice as much energy during acceleration than a bicycle, depending on the weight of the driver and vehicle.”
If the power required for acceleration were inversely proportional to the mass of a vehicle, the heavier the vehicle, the lower the power requirement, right? But the opposite is true.
read the article and asked for a test drive too. This is exactly what I need. I have an office job, single distance work-home = 43 km (along canals and small towns), so an eWAW should be like heaven. And it might let me loose some weight.
It is sad that overall enthusiastically written article was not written by someone who rides with a velomobile on daily basis: for shopping or by someone brings his/ her children to school. Not only commuting to work is important… Velomobile or electric velomobile is like a sports car. Very high speed, great bodywork but no so practical in daily use, especially if you have a family. If the price of the velomobile were “normal” - then OK, people would buy them. I own few bicycles (5 at the moment) but none of them cost me more than 500 EUR ($600). I could pay for limited velomobile - let’s say 2500 EUR ($3500) but the problem is that velomobile should serve WELL for different purposes. Not extreme but at least few of them. If I go for a shopping I would deinitely take my delta trike (good cargo space). If I just want to ride fast then I take my trekking bicycle on 28" wheels. If I would like to commute fast and make some shopping with a velomobile then I must pay … 5500 EUR ($7000). … Cargo space for square objects or things which can not be repacked is definitely too small in a velomobile. Turning radius is huge. Rolling resistance is high. There are losses in the transmission. That is annoying. I don’t even mention that with a city bike I can pick up a person … but with velomobile no… or sorry, maybe yes: DuoQuest or RJK Velomobile. But they are very wide, they won’t fit into bicycle paths.
Thanks for the pointer, I wish you (lot’s of) success. I can see that this might appeal to some people. Still I prefer my velomobile ;)
Firstly, thanks for such a well written article - it was a pleasure to read.
I currently own a non-legal ebike (500W motor without a spend limit) and am converting a recumbent trike to a velomobile. I am not concerned about the legal aspects of the ebike - what will happen if I’m stopped by the police - will they take away my cycling proficiency test badge ;-) ?
I intend to add the ebike motor to my velomobile to create an e-velo as described above - better top speed, improved range and rider comfort.
The velomobile will never replace the car in family life for all of reasons discussed above. However, it could replace the car for 95% of journeys which are currently undertaken, commuting to work being the primary one. Most commuting journeys are ‘relatively’ short (less than 10miles) and have only one person in the car.
The velomobile, in my opinion, shouldn’t aim to replace the car, but provide an alternative which can be used for the majority of journeys. With mass production the costs of velomobiles would drop dramatically, hopefully to a point where they can co-exist with a car in most households.
It is more realistic and almost as beneficial to aim for 75% of journeys to be completed at 50 times more efficient than an electric car, if the alternative is high cost, continuing dependence on fossil fuels and consumer ignorance.
The evolution of the car has gone from relatively small and modest (the mini) to large and extravagant (range rover/SUV). Now the trend seems to be returning towards smaller, more efficient, ‘city’ cars. Perhaps velomobiles could lead the way for individual, ultra-efficient personal transport…
It’s more expensive than a bicycle!
It can’t carry as much as a van or even a cargo bike. Especially children and square objects!
It’s not fast enough - it will enrage fossil drivers! It’s too fast - teenagers will kill themselves in it.
It can only be used 50 weeks a year!
It’s too wide. And there’s no passenger seat.
It’s a sports car! Why not make one of wood?
It’s too rare! 6,999,999,9990 non eWAW drivers can’t be wrong.
Shht, don’t tell anyone about it, or the Law will spew regulations.
The world isn’t ready for it. It isn’t ready for the world.
It’s a classic case of resistance to change. People aren’t gladly confronted with the insight that they spend a day’s wage a week on a car to stand a day a week in traffic. It’s over folks! Roads are closed, oil is robbed, overconsumption’s future isn’t what it used to be. Just evaluate honestly what you experience on the road. Wouldn’t you rather go out and play?
This article presents a solution to a fair amount of the first worlds important problems. It’s here, it’s mature, it’s affordable, it’s safe, comfortable and quick. It’s healthy and green, good for your body and soul. And most of all, it’s a blast to ride. What the hell do you want more? Are you only going to believe it if it’s served to you by multinational marketing departments? Be a sheep and queue up - or be a friggin’ lion and trust your power.
Godspeed you lowtechmagazine.com
Brecht Vandeputte, Fietser.be
eWAW rider and maker (you couldn’t tell, could you?)
Good alternative for people that are less talented than Lance Armstrong.
I like the idea of a electric velomobile. Compared to a car however, a car due to is size & it being adaptable (range, carry 4, luggage) etc is a lot more flexible. The downside to flexibility is efficiency.
Perhaps instead of making velomobile outright efficient, it could be a way to sacrifice some of the efficiency for flexibility. They could be slightly larger ones to be able to carry passenger & grocery, & the ability to have longer range as well of even higher speed.
Very informative piece.
A large deterrent for conventional velomobile adoption is fitting into traffic. For the majority of commuters the ride height is just too low. Traditionally, the advancements of velomobiles has been around a racing configuration but much of the same technology can be utilized with an emphasis on integrating safely with traffic.
Proper lighting and increased carrying capacity are also requisites for mass adoption.
Organic Transit is doing this with proprietary design at an affordable price, $4,000 (US). The ELF has electric assist with integrated solar panels. www.OrganicTransit.com
I am new to this site but I found this article superb. I love recumbents and think that they form some of the DNA for a possible solution. People love cars and while they love cars we will keep on burning stuff to make them and drive them. Radical designs are very rarely successful as the public like radical but don’t buy radical. There is a design out there in someones head that will cross over car to velo and people will buy in to it. To me it appears quite grotesque that we build vehicles that weigh 1000-1500kg to carry (most of the time) one person weighing in at around 80kg, nearly 19 times as much energy used to move the car as move the person, no wonder we use so much fuel. The laws need to change also so the velo can fight on a level playing field.
Frederik Van De Walle
Comparisons have their limitations. A velomobile needs a different mindset and a new modern velomobile will always be more expensive to purchase than an old barge of a car that will also transport you. However “unfair” this comparison is, for many this is a reality and it will take time to change this.
Even though only one model of velomobile is presented here, and even though the very concept of human levels of power won’t be able to provide a 9-seater 5m^3 2000kg luggage capacity vehicle driving on the more and more utopic autobahn at 160km/h, with some imagination it is possible to picture a future with hundreds of different velomobile models that can cater a large portion of actual transportation needs.
Family? Well, perhaps a family in the future will think it very odd that everyone had the cramp together in the same vehicle and have to agree to go to the same place at the exact same time, when each teenager and adult can have their own vehicle yet still be social (you can actually be social when driving velomobiles - I prefer head out). My experience is that kids love velomobiles indeed and can provide an immense freedom, I got my first one when I was 15 and it was great! It was like a mature go-cart that I loved when I was around 10 years old.
Fast and dangerous? Yes unfortunately every vehicle can be very dangerous and kids are kids. But even if a velomobile has some more speed potential, that doesn’t mean you have to go full speed everywhere - imagine if all car drivers did so. Indeed it remains the responsibility of the driver, and in case of kids, proper guidance. And for a young driver, I would still prefer a velomobile to a moped like many 14 year olds want but can’t have yet - and some get anyway.
Also much can be said that a velomobile is safer than a bicycle on many points, but to promote it as a the new “safety bicycle” would perhaps not be the way to go, cars remain very “impressive” by comparison, crushingly impressive…
Some more on Speed with a big S. The Waw is here compared by some to a sports car as if its speed and perceived unpracticality is comparable to a superfluous luxury item like a sports car. But I would argue that the speed of a velomobile is anything as excessive like a sports car and that the speed of modern velomobiles today is highly functional. Yes Kris has already pointed this out well - longer distance transport, but it seems speed continues to carry stigma. Yes the design of the Waw has compromised some practical aspect for efficiency. But this efficiency is in itself is very, very functional for a us cyclist that have to power the vehicle, making it a ‘practical’ proposition for longer distances where a slower cargobike, indeed very practical in a load carrying sense, wouldn’t even be considered. Not very practical then is it?
Different needs, different solutions. A WAW is not a cargobike, but will carry as much luggage as a typical bicyle, dry and without slowing down the aerodynamics. Of course you can make a vehicle that has its compromise somewhere else, and perhaps even manage to combine both quite a lot. I look forward to it.
I like to call our bodies the perfect engine, we can do much with human power, much more than in today’s society, but we must also remember their limitations and that perhaps the very reason to embrace it, the fact that it can’t get out of hand in the same way car mobility did. That has to be true, because if you put a too big electric engine in your velomobile, you just made a car…
Not to say there is no place for small, efficient electric cars, I very much like them in fact. But cycling on predominantly your own steam has something special, something that a theoretical defence cannot convey. It has to be experienced. Again and again…
Anyhow, thanks for another great article.
/Frederik - creator of the Waw
What about safety aspects… The fact that you are (very) low at the ground. A car in these dark winter days will hardly notice you. I ride with my pedelec 20 km to work (almost) every day. Summer and winter. In these days cars, other cyclists that don’t pay attention or are playing with their phone, will not see you. I have special (reflective) clothing and a very bright 40 lux frontlight to be seen and to see.
The velomobile is however a good alternative, but very costly at the moment. My bike cost € 1,600.- (2009 in Holland). In the 17.000 km in 3 years I have done so far, I have saved about twice the original purchase price of the bike.
The Milan SL Carbon or the Go One Evo K with less than 24 kg and with better aerodynamics are the “Porsche” and “Mc Laren” of the velomobile?
Width: a velomobile is approx 80cm in width. Bicycle handlebars are approx.70cm. Yes there are some differences as a bicycle has its width higher up and needs less track, on the other hand a velomobile does not need width for comfortably balancing the whole. All in all my experience is that width is generally not a problem except on the most narrow paths that are considered too narrow for comfort by bicycle users also.
Height and safety: a very valid concern is the question of visibility. Generally velomobiles get noticed very well but visibility can be obstructed by e.g. hedges and behind cars. Like all driving/riding, all progress in traffic is limited by visibility and the user mostly automatically adapts to those situations if they are careful. IF…. One important one is never to pass a car that has just stopped at full speed, nor to stop besides a car. Similar as visibility would dictate for a bicycle and van/truck.
There are many sitiations where a cyclist does not get noticed also and a velomobile adds a few and substracts a few. As should be in common with bicycle safety, the more users, the less accidents happen as all road users become more aware of each others presence.
I remember fondly when a friend for the first time was going to ride his bike with me in my Alleweder straight through a city. We were both well trained but he was in a hurry and very concerned about how long time it would take with my - in his eyes - big barge. At our destination he expressed his amazement on how well it went, and the barge had in his mind transformed to something much smaller and now very manouvrable.
Cool idea, if a bit utopian.
Unfortunately, in cities the Velomobile looses one of the bicycle’s major advantages (that is shared with scooters, mopeds, etc):
As far as efficient basic transport goes, consider that a Honda 50 gets about 200mpg, can carry two people in a pinch, can be parked anywhere, is cheap as chips to buy & maintain anywhere in the world, and has been around for 50+ years:
Which is why they’ve built 60 million of them.
Granted it’s not weatherproof like the velomobile, but you get the point…
While certainly such vehicles are practical in certain areas, lets be realistic about the fact that climate makes all the difference in the world.
In sunny California, or down south, such vehicles are indeed useful. However, in the Midwest (specifically Michigan), such vehicles are only useful at best for half the year. Trying to pilot those vehicles around in near freezing weather, let alone though potentially several inches (or feet!) of snow becomes uncomfortable if not near impossible.
Car crash = dead person with a vehicle like this!
Excellent, well thought out and obviously thought provoking!
I hope to hear more about the road experiences of VM pioneers in North America. NA has a knee-jerk “No!” with a thousand excuses to anything “small”. But this attitude, along with regulations, will change as energy and economics slowly collapse. The ego of NA’s mother (Britain) slowly imploded during her imperial denouement. The size of her vehicles shrank concordantly, and eccentricity became accepted. Anyone who thinks that downsizing of the American ego is impossible needs to read historical accounts of British arrogance.
My own attempt at velo-mobiling so far is a 3 person retro-styled homebuilt, about 1.3m wide. Relations with cars are very different than when riding a bicycle. It requires taking the lane, which I often do on a bicycle, but with no possibility of going back into the “bicycle slot” on the right side of the road. It’s a new level of assertiveness to be out there in the center of the lane even when traffic is moving at 50-60kph.
My next project will be a single person 2 wheel. I’m tired of getting damp on my daily commute over Lion’s gate bridge in Vancouver.
These remind me of the Vector bike cases from the 80’s. It would be good for off-road, but not street legal (highway). I’d surely hate to get into an accident with one :-) And, good luck finding an insurance company that would cover it.
I think the big factor limiting speed and forcing categorization is how a velo will handle being hit by a car. When limited to bike speeds and bike lanes, this is a non-issue. When you want to go 30 mph you are going too fast for a bike lane, so naturally you should be treated like a car. The ultimate solution is to have velo-only lanes that are the width of a car lane. On roads where there is no room for a full sized lane, you would need to step down the velo/bike lane speed to 15 or 20mph so that velos don’t run bikes off the road.
I think that something like the AirPod is a much more realistic means of transportation than this device, which in my opinion will never be more than a fun curiosity item.
I’m all for these types of vehicles but unless we have all covered or underground roads they are rubbish. what are you going to do if you have ice or a 6 inches of snow on the road? Or what will happen when you are traveling at a decent clip and there’s a large pothole in the road and you can’t avoid it because of traffic congestion? When they make something I can travel in with 3 kids in snow or ice and carry some groceries too that doesn’t cost 20 k I’ll bite untill then these are for hobbyists.
I always enjoy articles written by authors who have imbibed the flavor-aid. There seems to be a large segment of folks who believe that nobody actually carries anything in their cars besides themselves and maybe a tablet. I already take transit to work and have minimized vehicular use but for 90% of the trips I take a velomobile is simply not a realistic option. I can’t take my hockey gear, golf clubs or kids with me in it and since that is the bulk of my car trips a velomobile would be just another toy…exactly what it is for folks in the real world.
How is this different to a Sinclair C5?
What I see missing from this particular discussion is the future re-engineering of our road network to allow high-efficiency commuting, specifically to limit acceleration and deceleration to the barest minimum. This points in the direction of:
replacing traffic lights with traffic circles / round-abouts, so vehicles can merge & yield at higher-than-zero speeds
solutions to the stop/go ‘wave’ effect during congestion (possible: car-to-car wifi automation)
aggregators / distribution networks, picking the highest efficiency option available for a given stretch (foot to velomobile to bus to train to bus to velomobile to foot)
separation of duties: you might take your bike to the store, pick your items, then have them delivered separately to your house by a higher-efficiency cargo service, without having to yourself purchase, maintain, or use a cargo-ready vehicle (same on long trips: just as you allow airlines to handle your lugguage, reliable & quickly-routed transport of goods should allow you to travel bag-free anywhere roads can take you). The main thing standing in the way of efficiently moving people between means of transport is that people don’t like to be jostled about like boxes. But if we could put people on palettes and move them from bus to train to plane? Hmmm…
“It’s clear that the bicycle is not a viable alternative to the car.”
Just a quick correction, there is no state in Canada, but Provinces. Canadians can get offended that people make no difference between Canada and the US…
Mr. De Decker (#61), the wheel problem can be solved with a double width, two-diameter wheel. Imagine a regular bicycle wheel with a slightly smaller steel/hard rubber wheel attached to the outside of it. The velo could operate on rails with the road tires hanging down just inside the rails.
As to the braking, make the velos operate at a fixed speed while under rail power. No overtaking possible. Establish off/on ramps with railroad style switching points and speed controls built in. It would be, in effect, a limited access highway with perfectly enforced speed limits. The velos could operate as close to each other as the speed of the switches would allow.
I remember seeing a chart of the power expenditure of the world speed record holder in a faired recumbent (Sam Watterson?). He put out 450 watts at 81 mph. I’m thinking that a bulkier and less aerodynamic velo could do 60 mph with 500 watts, about 1/30 the power of an efficient automobile.
Interesting article but obviously sponsored by Fietser! I have tried the WAW but it’s lack of rear suspension was a major factor in choosing to buy a Dutch Quest XS . Your weight comparisons are wrong– my Quest XS Carbon is lighter than the WAW at around 27 kg. In the hilly part of the UK where I live weight is very important. The side-stick (sometimes called “tank”) steering is liked by some and not liked by others- it takes up valuable side space in the “cockpit” that can otherwise be used for carrying stuff. The claim of being the “Ferrari” of velomobiles is untrue- the WAW has it’s good points but sells in very small numbers compared to other brands costing around the same price. You should do more homework before publishing such an article!
As comfortable as a car you say? Does it have: onboard stereo system, ventilation, A/C, heating, a cup holder for my coffee, space to move at all, suspension, gps, space for your groceries, space for your kids, anything going for it? What will you do with that at -25C with a feet of snow on the ground? Would you really feel safe to drive that thing on the road along side a 15 tons Mack truck? Sure it might be efficient, but you will never see anyone but eco-hipster using that thing. How do you even fit an American in that thing?
As a side note, i just discovered this web site and some of the other articles have a really great quality of research going for them, keep up the good work, i just like to be that cynic asshole.
While not as cool or high-tech as the futuristic vehicles in this article, “electric velomobiles” of sorts are actually quite popular in some parts of China. The vehicle is basically an electric tricycle, with a cargo bed in the back that can be converted to seat a couple of passengers. I don’t recall seeing them in major cities (where, perhaps, they would not be legal) or in the countryside (where, in general, people use motorcycles rather than electric vehicles, due to often rugged terrain and longer distances), but there were lots of them in Qufu, the small city best known as the hometown of Confucius. Apparently, the locals who need not just to get around, but also to move kids and stuff around, find these contraptions both practical and affordable.
Here’s a photo report, from 2 years ago: http://vmenkov.blogspot.com/2013/02/electric-tricycles-of-qufu.html
It seems that the way such electric trikes are displayed in bike stores, they don’t offer any protection from elements, but when they are actually used on the streets, they often do have some kind of a lightweight cover installed, keeping rain, dust, or cold wind away from the driver.
They don’t seem to move very fast, as the design emphasizes cargo capacity rather than speed; there seems to be no problem with them coexisting with cars and bicycles (regular and electric) on Qufu’s streets.
I’m riding an unmotorized waw since 2 years (+ 20.000 kms) in Switzerland. I use it almost exclusively for commuting, winter/summer/snow/rain.
To do leisure/sporting bicycle trips I use other recumbents, as a velomobile
asks for much concentration (especially in and nearby city-traffic), and sometimes I want to ride and simply avail the surroundings which are splendid over here. A velomobile is not made for that (in comparison with other bicycles)
doesn’t permit communication and group riding as you can do with other bicycles. I have a friend here that also rides a velomobile and I find that it is very difficult to communicate between riders when riding together.
So the velomobile is an excellent choice for commuting and outstands most other commuting vehicles in this situation. I do about 45 km a day with some serious climbing with an average riding time of 90 minutes. Buying the velomobile made it able to rely on a single car for our 5 headed family although we live at about 20 kms of the city center.
Concerning comfort I recognize that you don’t have the same comfort as in a car but I think it would not be bad to question the supposed comfort of a car. In new cars I almost suffocate due to chemical vapors of all kinds, 2 of my 3 children as well as my wife if she doesn’t drive, suffer from car-illness. And even older cars do easily smell… For me a car equals a big distance to cover with my family.
Finally, in busy commuting traffic I’m almost always faster then cars. The key is in the fact that when traffic jams I can take without a problem the bicycle accommodations.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. More then 30% of swiss citizens suffer from obesity. Also car comfort I think …
I’m surprised at the number of frankly idiotic cynical comments here. Old bad habits die hard.
Clearly this generation of velomobile is not intended as universal transport. As with the original Tesla Roadster, it’s breaking new ground and redefining categories. Over time we can expect to see the design advantages adapted to different types of vehicles that serve different purposes.
For example what I need is equivalent to a micro version of a tradesman’s van, capable of carrying tools & equipment to jobsites, ideally having space for a coworker as well. An electrified enclosed version of the 1990s English “Brox” would be ideal (and here in the USA where thefts and armed robberies are the norm, it would require hard enclosures with locks). I’m patient and I can wait for that to come along.
As for commuting, the problem with commuting is commuting. Telecommute technology (working from home) is not only easy to implement but improves productivity and reduces overhead costs as well. The law should forbid, or tax out of existence, commuting to office jobs that don’t involve putting hands on product. That would also free up road space for all kinds of vehicles including velomobiles, for trips that are truly necessary.
Here’s a safety modification for anyone who’s concerned about not being seen by automobile and lorry drivers: a high antenna festooned with triangular flags in fluorescent colors. Yes it will impact aerodynamics, but at city speeds that shouldn’t be a major problem. The antenna could be designed in a manner that enables it to be pulled down tight to the velomobile’s body (perhaps with a nylon line on a reel inside the cockpit?) on open roads with no traffic. Then when an approaching car or lorry is seen in the rearview mirror, press the button to release the reel, and the antenna springs up to signal your presence.
Meanwhile, the latest vehicular fetish here in the USA is the “self-driving automobile,” brought to you by Google, the surveillance monster dressed up in shiny consumer packaging. The real purpose of self-driving cars is not “road safety,” but to enable you to “consume media” on the road, the better to subject you to more intrusive advertising, whilst spying on you by tracking your trips and scanning your conversations for keywords and emotional tone. Fortunately these horrid things are still at the stage of “an experiment,” so we have time to regulate them out of existence.
Speaking of marketing, here’s how to get velos to catch on in the USA: In many states (California among them), three wheels = a motorcycle. So: create a series-hybrid configuration with a small gas engine and powerful electric motor, and call it a motorcycle. More to the point, call it a road rocket, because it looks like a rocket, and a series hybrid version will GO like a rocket. Appeal to the speed factor and the cool factor, with the added geek-cool factor of the high-tech powertrain. Then bring out the human/electric hybrid version as a “moped.” I guarantee that will catch on and go viral. The purists here may wince and even get nauseous at the idea, but it will work.
I think it is a mistake to sell a velomobile as an alternative to the automobile. The fact is that with any motor-vehicle not an once of effort has to be exerted while with a velomobile the more effort you put in the more it will produce. A velomobile is nothing more than an extension of the human driver. It maximizes the effort one would put out by walking 10 even 15 times. It is the ultimate bicycle.
I’m new to Low Tech magazine and perhaps it is primarily Eurocentric, which would be perfectly understandable. I live in Georgia (SE USA) Our summers can occasionally get to 100F with 70-80% humidity and our winter days get close to freezing fairly often. Not fun. Even more important, a very high percentage of commutes include some highway travel. Aside from that, I’m surprised safety is hardly mentioned in this article.
A velomobile would be below the sight lines of most sports utility vehicles popular in the US and almost invisible to Semi-trucks and delivery vans. I would not count on a few flags (as someone suggested) to be noticed. Do these things swerve? What is the stopping length? (maybe I missed that)as other have said, this is heavy enough to seriously injure a pedestrian who steps in front of it. Do driver’s have insurance?
In the US most bicyclists ride in the gutter at the edge of the streets, bike lanes being rare to nonexistent. A velomobile is too large to pass and American drivers drive very fast, even on surface streets. Auto drivers would be furious and take huge risks to get around it.
Cute toy, but not close to practical for any use on our side of the pond. The price is breathtaking! I can get a small car for that and not be miserable, or taking life in my hands, using it.
Talking about what people “should” do is pointless when it slams hard into the brick wall of what they will, or can, do and comes out worse for wear.
Electric Velomobiles: as Fast and Comfortable as Automobiles, but 80 times more Efficient
The title seems inaccurate to me:
first: a motorised velo is NOT as fast as any automobile I know of
second: no bicycle will ever be as comfortable as 90+ percent of automobiles
third: I could not wrap my head around the “80 times more efficient” equation… against “automobiles” … The Leaf, in the minds of 90+ percent of human beings IS NOT an true automobile… care to elaborate, expand or justify the statement?
I am trying hard to envision such a solution in a significant portion of the US, however, it’s not working for me. That being said, I’ve lived in numerous communities that have biking paths that might accommodate a pedal version but none that would tolerate motorized speeds. Except in small town US communities, I can’t see these being accommodated easily. We here in New Mexico have a high percentage of traditional bicyclists so acceptance is not a major issue.
It’s the lack of being able to achieve at least 55 MPH / 88 KPH speeds, in my opinion, which would be the impediment, as that’s sort of a minimum here (as in most communities I’ve lived in), in order to garner “respect” by other drivers and move around on the roads in the community safely. Ergo, the reason most mopeds are barely accepted as all-around road vehicles. They are tolerated but not truly accepted. I’ve lived in eight states (and two Canadian Provinces) and this seems to be a given in most of them.
As BTidwell (#70) alluded, there are places that moving along at Freeway speeds (65 MPH / 100 KPH) is highly preferable.
I also agree that at $10,000.00 US plus for a pedal version (didn’t find a motorized version price) I can’t see people in the US purchasing these when a two person used smart car can be purchased for that same price or less and achieves freeway speeds.
In addition, all of this is included:
1.0L, 3 CYL., FUEL INJECTED, AUTOMATIC RWD, POWER STEERING, POWER BRAKES, POWER DOOR LOCKS, POWER WINDOWS, AM/FM STEREO RADIO, RADIAL TIRES, ALLOY WHEELS, GAUGE CLUSTER, CLOCK, TRIP ODOMETER, TACHOMETER, *AIR CONDITIONING, TINTED GLASS, INTERVAL WIPERS, REAR DEFROSTER, DRIVER SIDE AIR BAG, PASSENGER SIDE AIR BAG, CONSOLE, CARPETING, VANITY MIRROR, DAY/NIGHT LEVER, DUAL SPORT MIRRORS, DRIVER SIDE REMOTE MIRROR, FRONT BUCKET SEATS, RECLINING SEATS, CLOTH UPHOLSTERY, TWO TONE PAINT, BODY SIDE MOLDINGS, MAP LIGHTS, INSIDE HOOD RELEASE, *COMPACT DISC PLAYER, FOLD DOWN REAR SEAT, STEP BUMPER, ANTI-LOCK BRAKING SYSTEM, MAINTENANCE FREE BATTERY, HALOGEN HEADLIGHTS
PS: I tried to select a true automobile with a similar size and price-range and hopefully this is not offensive in any way
I live in a rural and slightly hilly area in southern Germany, and most people here commute to work 15 to 50 km (10 to 35 miles) daily. So our area could be the ideal environment for velomobiles.
But alas, as BTIdwell(70) and Pete Sherwood(71) said, as long as velomobiles have to share streets with cars, there are three huge problems: speed, sight lines and crash safety.
Like in America, there are almost no bike lanes in rural areas like ours. But there are many SUVs and delivery vans on the roads between villages and they rarely go at less than 50 MPH / 80 KPH. They fume at the few bikers and not so few tractors that make them go slow (often very suddenly when going over a hill or around the bend) and they will take the narrowest (literally) chance to overtake them. They can’t do much harm to a tractor, but bikers live in constant danger here.
Also, many people here do their shopping when on their way home, or pick up kids, relatives or neighbors - all of which is difficult to do with the limited space a velomobile provides.
Therefore, I think that velomobiles, even when enhanced with better lights and batteries, will be generally accepted and used only when fuel cars will become too expensive because of Peak Oil. Then they will be the vehicle of choice for commuting in rural areas. That is, in 10 to 15 years…
Haters gonna hate. But it’s their problem. It’s my choice to ride my bikes and velomobile (and my car twice a month) Don’t dismiss a great consept just because Your Backward Country can’t accept any change. Yankees tell cycling is too dangerous in their roads. Fine, they can keep hauling their fat asses in their SUV’s and be happy with it. Instead of whining about bad road infrastucture, they should demand better and safer roads. If that’s not going to happen in your country then you have to conform to your backward norms, or be a brave forerunner and be ridiculed and harassed sometimes. Some clever people hate living in such monoculture and defect at first opportunity to Europe.
In Northern Europe you can find such things as safe cycling lanes even between cities, extensive public transport, cheap second hand velomobiles, bicycle rush hours, cycle-to-work schemes and slim and fit people, and also you do car sharing and hitchiking.
The biggest problem I see with the adoption of the velomobile, is the same problem with adoption of the bicycle, and that is that your average car driver has a skewed frame of reference, both on the level of practicality of a bike, and on the costs of each vehicle.
Until you’ve biked on a regular basis for a couple of months, you don’t know what is actually a reasonable distance or time for a ride.
Most people think, as this article states, that anything over 5km is too far to bike. Obviously if you’re a cyclist, you know that this is absurd, but you’re not the one who needs convincing. To someone who hasn’t biked (or walked) significant distances, 10km sounds way too far, and when they first ride it, it will seem exhausting and will take them way too long to seem reasonable for a daily commute. This would change, if they stuck with it for a few weeks, but most people don’t stick it out that long.
As far as value goes, people tend to treat the car’s costs as status quo, and ignore them. They’re already used to paying a couple hundred bucks a month for insurance, a bunch more for gas, etc. So they see a $5k bike and say “I could get a car for that”. The difference being, that that $5k bike has very little in terms of recurring costs, where the $5k car is going to cost at least a couple $k every year.
As far as the safety concerns, bad drivers, visability, etc. Those are all real problems, but we shouldn’t be blaming the victims. The problem is bad drivers in dangerous vehicles. The arms race attitude “I’ll just drive a bigger box and it’ll keep me safe” is not sustainable.
Nice idea and well presented but you must bear one thing in mind. Car is not an enemy…I’m a petrolhead driving a sports car but I consider velomobiles as an alternative type of trasportation which will replace cars in specific distances.Using a velomobile is prefered for in town transport or commuting while only cars must be allowed to drive in highways.Nothing can replace the speed of a car in a highway but on the other hand velomobiles will be great and eco-friendly for short distances.Safety must not be a problem in the future if velomobiles conquer only the cities as cars will roar in highways.
There’s a trend in high status offices to have a treadmill instead of a chair for at least part of the time. A self-steering velomobile with an integrated office such as a (3D) screen or virtual or mixed reality headsets would capture the trend of fitness and productivity in a high status expression that can afford the kickstart investment as high status symbols with effective use of time for three purposes at once. At such status level taking a shower and changing clothes isn’t a problem, but some climatization for summer and Skandinavian winters would be useful as well as an option to create a second seat and impress a date with a tour and a picnic.
For a general breakthrough additional cargo or second seat capability of a foldable structure that doesn’t need expensive space to rent would be a bonus at the expense of aerodynamics and with more speed obtained by a battery that also helps to load mobile devices such as phones, tablets and probably soon mixed/virtual reality glasses and their computation.
If you are waiting for the government to act to approve any new invention, especially one like velomobiles that threatens to undermine the need for petroleum and hence the political power of petroleum corporations, you will be waiting a very very long time. People should just ignore the government and just start riding in their velomobiles. If other people see for themselves the advantages of velomobiles, they will want one for themselves. The more riders, the more likely the laws will change. Ride on but . . . be sure to ride safely and responsibly. Do NOT give the authorities excuses to ban velomobiles.